Part 3 out of 7
will he be able to preserve his balance. This difficulty
of seeing things correctly, which is one of the greatest
sources of friction in War, makes things appear quite
different from what was expected. The impression of the
senses is stronger than the force of the ideas resulting from
methodical reflection, and this goes so far that no important
undertaking was ever yet carried out without the
Commander having to subdue new doubts in himself
at the time of commencing the execution of his work.
Ordinary men who follow the suggestions of others
become, therefore, generally undecided on the spot;
they think that they have found circumstances different
from what they had expected, and this view gains strength
by their again yielding to the suggestions of others.
But even the man who has made his own plans, when he
comes to see things with his own eyes will often think
he has done wrong. Firm reliance on self must make
him proof against the seeming pressure of the moment;
his first conviction will in the end prove true, when the
foreground scenery which fate has pushed on to the
stage of War, with its accompaniments of terrific objects,
is drawn aside and the horizon extended. This is one
of the great chasms which separate CONCEPTION from
CHAPTER VII. FRICTION IN WAR
As long as we have no personal knowledge of War, we
cannot conceive where those difficulties lie of which
so much is said, and what that genius and those extraordinary
mental powers required in a General have really
to do. All appears so simple, all the requisite branches of
knowledge appear so plain, all the combinations so unimportant,
that in comparison with them the easiest problem
in higher mathematics impresses us with a certain
scientific dignity. But if we have seen War, all becomes
intelligible; and still, after all, it is extremely difficult
to describe what it is which brings about this change,
to specify this invisible and completely efficient factor.
Everything is very simple in War, but the simplest
thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce
a friction which no man can imagine exactly who
has not seen War, Suppose now a traveller, who towards
evening expects to accomplish the two stages at the end
of his day's journey, four or five leagues, with post-horses,
on the high road--it is nothing. He arrives now at the
last station but one, finds no horses, or very bad ones;
then a hilly country, bad roads; it is a dark night, and he
is glad when, after a great deal of trouble, he reaches
the next station, and finds there some miserable accommodation.
So in War, through the influence of an infinity
of petty circumstances, which cannot properly be described
on paper, things disappoint us, and we fall short of the
mark. A powerful iron will overcomes this friction;
it crushes the obstacles, but certainly the machine along
with them. We shall often meet with this result. Like
an obelisk towards which the principal streets of a town
converge, the strong will of a proud spirit stands prominent
and commanding in the middle of the Art of
Friction is the only conception which in a general way
corresponds to that which distinguishes real War from
War on paper. The military machine, the Army and all
belonging to it, is in fact simple, and appears on this
account easy to manage. But let us reflect that no part
of it is in one piece, that it is composed entirely of
individuals, each of which keeps up its own friction in all
directions. Theoretically all sounds very well: the commander
of a battalion is responsible for the execution of
the order given; and as the battalion by its discipline
is glued together into one piece, and the chief must be a
man of acknowledged zeal, the beam turns on an iron
pin with little friction. But it is not so in reality, and all
that is exaggerated and false in such a conception manifests
itself at once in War. The battalion always remains
composed of a number of men, of whom, if chance so wills,
the most insignificant is able to occasion delay and even
irregularity. The danger which War brings with it,
the bodily exertions which it requires, augment this evil
so much that they may be regarded as the greatest causes
This enormous friction, which is not concentrated, as
in mechanics, at a few points, is therefore everywhere
brought into contact with chance, and thus incidents take
place upon which it was impossible to calculate, their chief
origin being chance. As an instance of one such chancethe
weather. Here the
fog prevents the enemy
from being discovered in time, a battery from firing at
the right moment, a report from reaching the General;
there the rain prevents a battalion from arriving
at the right time, because instead of for three it
had to march perhaps eight hours; the cavalry from
charging effectively because it is stuck fast in heavy
These are only a few incidents of detail by way of
elucidation, that the reader may be able to follow the
author, for whole volumes might be written on these
difficulties. To avoid this, and still to give a clear conception
of the host of small difficulties to be contended with
in War, we might go on heaping up illustrations, if we were
not afraid of being tiresome. But those who have already
comprehended us will permit us to add a few more.
Activity in War is movement in a resistant medium.
Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform with
ease and regularity the most natural and simplest movement,
that of walking, so in War, with ordinary powers,
one cannot keep even the line of mediocrity. This is the
reason that the correct theorist is like a swimming master,
who teaches on dry land movements which are required
in the water, which must appear grotesque and ludicrous
to those who forget about the water. This is also why
theorists, who have never plunged in themselves, or who
cannot deduce any generalities from their experience,
are unpractical and even absurd, because they only teach
what every one knows--how to walk.
Further, every War is rich in particular facts, while
at the same time each is an unexplored sea, full of rocks
which the General may have a suspicion of, but which he
has never seen with his eye, and round which, moreover,
he must steer in the night. If a contrary wind also
springs up, that is, if any great accidental event declares
itself adverse to him, then the most consummate skill,
presence of mind, and energy are required, whilst to
those who only look on from a distance all seems to
proceed with the utmost ease. The knowledge of this
friction is a chief part of that so often talked of, experience
in War, which is required in a good General. Certainly
he is not the best General in whose mind it assumes the
greatest dimensions, who is the most over-awed by it
(this includes that class of over-anxious Generals, of
whom there are so many amongst the experienced);
but a General must be aware of it that he may overcome
it, where that is possible, and that he may not expect
a degree of precision in results which is impossible on
account of this very friction. Besides, it can never be
learnt theoretically; and if it could, there would still
be wanting that experience of judgment which is called
tact, and which is always more necessary in a field full
of innumerable small and diversified objects than in
great and decisive cases, when one's own judgment may
be aided by consultation with others. Just as the man
of the world, through tact of judgment which has become
habit, speaks, acts, and moves only as suits the occasion,
so the officer experienced in War will always, in great and
small matters, at every pulsation of War as we may say,
decide and determine suitably to the occasion. Through
this experience and practice the idea comes to his mind
of itself that so and so will not suit. And thus he will
not easily place himself in a position by which he is
which, if it often occurs in War, shakes all the
foundations of confidence and becomes extremely dangerous.
It is therefore this friction, or what is so termed here,
which makes that which appears easy in War difficult in
reality. As we proceed, we shall often meet with this
subject again, and it will hereafter become plain that
besides experience and a strong will, there are still
many other rare qualities of the mind required to
make a man a consummate General.
CHAPTER VIII. CONCLUDING REMARKS, BOOK I
THOSE things which as elements meet together in the
atmosphere of War and make it a resistant medium for
every activity we have designated under the terms
danger, bodily effort (exertion), information, and friction.
In their impedient effects they may therefore be comprehended
again in the collective notion of a general friction.
Now is there, then, no kind of oil which is capable of
diminishing this friction? Only one, and that one is not
always available at the will of the Commander or his
Army. It is the habituation of an Army to War.
Habit gives strength to the body in great exertion, to
the mind in great danger, to the judgment against first
impressions. By it a valuable circumspection is generally
gained throughout every rank, from the hussar and rifleman
up to the General of Division, which facilitates the
work of the Chief Commander.
As the human eye in a dark room dilates its pupil,
draws in the little light that there is, partially distinguishes
objects by degrees, and at last knows them quite well,
so it is in War with the experienced soldier, whilst the
novice is only met by pitch dark night.
Habituation to War no General can give his Army at
once, and the camps of manoeuvre (peace exercises)
furnish but a weak substitute for it, weak in comparison
with real experience in War, but not weak in relation
to other Armies in which the training is limited to mere
mechanical exercises of routine. So to regulate the exercises
in peace time as to include some of these causes of
friction, that the judgment, circumspection, even resolution
of the separate leaders may be brought into exercise,
is of much greater consequence than those believe who
do not know the thing by experience. It is of immense
importance that the soldier, high or low, whatever rank
he has, should not have to encounter in War those
things which, when seen for the first time, set him
in astonishment and perplexity; if he has only met
with them one single time before, even by that he is half
acquainted with them. This relates even to bodily
fatigues. They should be practised less to accustom the
body to them than the mind. In War the young soldier
is very apt to regard unusual fatigues as the consequence
of faults, mistakes, and embarrassment in the conduct
of the whole, and to become distressed and despondent
as a consequence. This would not happen if he had
been prepared for this beforehand by exercises in peace.
Another less comprehensive but still very important
means of gaining habituation to War in time of peace is
to invite into the service officers of foreign armies who
have had experience in War. Peace seldom reigns over
all Europe, and never in all quarters of the world. A
State which has been long at peace should, therefore,
always seek to procure some officers who have done good
service at the different scenes of Warfare, or to send
there some of its own, that they may get a lesson in
However small the number of officers of this description
may appear in proportion to the mass, still their
influence is very sensibly felt.[*] Their experience, the bent
of their genius, the stamp of their character, influence
their subordinates and comrades; and besides that, if
they cannot be placed in positions of superior command,
they may always be regarded as men acquainted with
the country, who may be questioned on many special
[*] The War of 1870 furnishes a marked illustration. Von Moltke
von Goeben, not to mention many others, had both seen service in
this manner, the former in Turkey and Syria, the latter in
BOOK II. ON THE THEORY OF WAR
CHAPTER I. BRANCHES OF THE ART OF WAR
WAR in its literal meaning is fighting, for fighting alone
is the efficient principle in the manifold activity which
in a wide sense is called War. But fighting is a trial of
strength of the moral and physical forces by means of
the latter. That the moral cannot be omitted is evident
of itself, for the condition of the mind has always the
most decisive influence on the forces employed in War.
The necessity of fighting very soon led men to special
inventions to turn the advantage in it in their own favour:
in consequence of these the mode of fighting has undergone
great alterations; but in whatever way it is conducted
its conception remains unaltered, and fighting is
that which constitutes War.
The inventions have been from the first weapons and
equipments for the individual combatants. These have
to be provided and the use of them learnt before the War
begins. They are made suitable to the nature of the
fighting, consequently are ruled by it; but plainly
the activity engaged in these appliances is a different
thing from the fight itself; it is only the preparation for
the combat, not the conduct of the same. That arming
and equipping are not essential to the conception of fighting
is plain, because mere wrestling is also fighting.
Fighting has determined everything appertaining to
arms and equipment, and these in turn modify the mode of
fighting; there is, therefore, a reciprocity of action
between the two.
Nevertheless, the fight itself remains still an entirely
special activity, more particularly because it moves in an
entirely special element, namely, in the element of danger.
If, then, there is anywhere a necessity for drawing a
line between two different activities, it is here; and in
order to see clearly the importance of this idea, we need
only just to call to mind how often eminent personal
fitness in one field has turned out nothing but the most
useless pedantry in the other.
It is also in no way difficult to separate in idea the one
activity from the other, if we look at the combatant
forces fully armed and equipped as a given means, the
profitable use of which requires nothing more than a
knowledge of their general results.
The Art of War is therefore, in its proper sense, the art
of making use of the given means in fighting, and we
cannot give it a better name than the "Conduct of War."
On the other hand, in a wider sense all activities which
have their existence on account of War, therefore the
whole creation of troops, that is levying them, arming,
equipping, and exercising them, belong to the Art of War.
To make a sound theory it is most essential to separate
these two activities, for it is easy to see that if every act
of War is to begin with the preparation of military forces,
and to presuppose forces so organised as a primary condition
for conducting War, that theory will only be applicable
in the few cases to which the force available happens
to be exactly suited. If, on the other hand, we wish to
have a theory which shall suit most cases, and will not be
wholly useless in any case, it must be founded on those
means which are in most general use, and in respect to
these only on the actual results springing from them.
The conduct of War is, therefore, the formation and
conduct of the fighting. If this fighting was a single act,
there would be no necessity for any further subdivision,
but the fight is composed of a greater or less number of
single acts, complete in themselves, which we call combats,
as we have shown in the first chapter of the first book, and
which form new units. From this arises the totally
different activities, that of the FORMATION and CONDUCT of
these single combats in themselves, and the COMBINATION
of them with one another, with a view to the ultimate object
of the War. The first is called TACTICS, the other STRATEGY.
This division into tactics and strategy is now in almost
general use, and every one knows tolerably well under
which head to place any single fact, without knowing
very distinctly the grounds on which the classification
is founded. But when such divisions are blindly adhered
to in practice, they must have some deep root. We have
searched for this root, and we might say that it is just the
usage of the majority which has brought us to it. On the
other hand, we look upon the arbitrary, unnatural definitions
of these conceptions sought to be established
by some writers as not in accordance with the general
usage of the terms.
According to our classification, therefore, tactics IS THE
THEORY OF THE USE OF MILITARY FORCES IN COMBAT. Strategy
IS THE THEORY OF THE USE OF COMBATS FOR THE OBJECT OF THE WAR.
The way in which the conception of a single, or independent
combat, is more closely determined, the conditions
to which this unit is attached, we shall only be able to
explain clearly when we consider the combat; we must
content ourselves for the present with saying that in
relation to space, therefore in combats taking place at
the same time, the unit reaches just as far as PERSONAL
COMMAND reaches; but in regard to time, and therefore
in relation to combats which follow each other in close
succession, it reaches to the moment when the crisis which
takes place in every combat is entirely passed.
That doubtful cases may occur, cases, for instance,
in which several combats may perhaps be regarded also
as a single one, will not overthrow the ground of distinction
we have adopted, for the same is the case with all
grounds of distinction of real things which are differentiated
by a gradually diminishing scale. There may,
therefore, certainly be acts of activity in War which,
without any alteration in the point of view, may just
as well be counted strategic as tactical; for example,
very extended positions resembling a chain of posts, the
preparations for the passage of a river at several points, &c.
Our classification reaches and covers only the USE OF
THE MILITARY FORCE. But now there are in War a number
of activities which are subservient to it, and still are quite
different from it; sometimes closely allied, sometimes
less near in their affinity. All these activities relate to
the MAINTENANCE OF THE MILITARY FORCE. In the same way
as its creation and training precede its use, so its maintenance
is always a necessary condition. But, strictly
viewed, all activities thus connected with it are always
to be regarded only as preparations for fighting; they are
certainly nothing more than activities which are very
close to the action, so that they run through the hostile
act alternate in importance with the use of the forces. We
have therefore a right to exclude them as well as the other
preparatory activities from the Art of War in its restricted
sense, from the conduct of War properly so called; and
we are obliged to do so if we would comply with the first
principle of all theory, the elimination of all heterogeneous
elements. Who would include in the real "conduct
of War" the whole litany of subsistence and administration,
because it is admitted to stand in constant reciprocal
action with the use of the troops, but is something essentially
different from it?
We have said, in the third chapter of our first book, that
as the fight or combat is the only directly effective activity,
therefore the threads of all others, as they end in it, are
included in it. By this we meant to say that to all
others an object was thereby appointed which, in accordance
with the laws peculiar to themselves, they must seek
to attain. Here we must go a little closer into this
The subjects which constitute the activities outside of
the combat are of various kinds.
The one part belongs, in one respect, to the combat
itself, is identical with it, whilst it serves in another
respect for the maintenance of the military force. The
other part belongs purely to the subsistence, and has only,
in consequence of the reciprocal action, a limited influence
on the combats by its results. The subjects which in one
respect belong to the fighting itself are MARCHES, CAMPS,
and CANTONMENTS, for they suppose so many different situations
of troops, and where troops are supposed there the
idea of the combat must always be present.
The other subjects, which only belong to the maintenance,
are SUBSISTENCE, CARE OF THE SICK, the SUPPLY AND
REPAIR OF ARMS AND EQUIPMENT.
Marches are quite identical with the use of the troops.
The act of marching in the combat, generally called
manoeuvring, certainly does not necessarily include the
use of weapons, but it is so completely and necessarily combined
with it that it forms an integral part of that which
we call a combat. But the march outside the combat
is nothing but the execution of a strategic measure. By
the strategic plan is settled WHEN, WHERE, and WITH WHAT
FORCES a battle is to be delivered--and to carry that into
execution the march is the only means.
The march outside of the combat is therefore an
instrument of strategy, but not on that account exclusively
a subject of strategy, for as the armed force which
executes it may be involved in a possible combat at any
moment, therefore its execution stands also under tactical
as well as strategic rules. If we prescribe to a column
its route on a particular side of a river or of a branch of a
mountain, then that is a strategic measure, for it contains
the intention of fighting on that particular side of the hill
or river in preference to the other, in case a combat
should be necessary during the march.
But if a column, instead of following the road through a
valley, marches along the parallel ridge of heights, or
for the convenience of marching divides itself into several
columns, then these are tactical arrangements, for they
relate to the manner in which we shall use the troops in
the anticipated combat.
The particular order of march is in constant relation
with readiness for combat, is therefore tactical in its
nature, for it is nothing more than the first or preliminary
disposition for the battle which may possibly take
As the march is the instrument by which strategy
apportions its active elements, the combats, but these
last often only appear by their results and not in the details
of their real course, it could not fail to happen that in
theory the instrument has often been substituted for the
efficient principle. Thus we hear of a decisive skilful
march, allusion being thereby made to those combat-
combinations to which these marches led. This substitution
of ideas is too natural and conciseness of expression
too desirable to call for alteration, but still it is only a
condensed chain of ideas in regard to which we must
never omit to bear in mind the full meaning, if we would
avoid falling into error.
We fall into an error of this description if we attribute
to strategical combinations a power independent of tactical
results. We read of marches and manoeuvres combined,
the object attained, and at the same time not a word about
combat, from which the conclusion is drawn that there
are means in War of conquering an enemy without fighting.
The prolific nature of this error we cannot show until
But although a march can be regarded absolutely as an
integral part of the combat, still there are in it certain
relations which do not belong to the combat, and therefore
are neither tactical nor strategic. To these belong
all arrangements which concern only the accommodation
of the troops, the construction of bridges, roads, &c.
These are only conditions; under many circumstances
they are in very close connection, and may almost identify
themselves with the troops, as in building a bridge in
presence of the enemy; but in themselves they are always
theory of which does not form
part of the theory of the conduct of War.
Camps, by which we mean every disposition of troops
in concentrated, therefore in battle order, in
contradistinction to cantonments or quarters, are a state of
rest, therefore of restoration; but they are at the same
time also the strategic appointment of a battle on the spot,
chosen; and by the manner in which they are taken up
they contain the fundamental lines of the battle, a
condition from which every defensive battle starts;
they are therefore essential parts of both strategy and
Cantonments take the place of camps for the better
refreshment of the troops. They are therefore, like
camps, strategic subjects as regards position and extent;
tactical subjects as regards internal organisation, with a
view to readiness to fight.
The occupation of camps and cantonments no doubt
usually combines with the recuperation of the troops
another object also, for example, the covering a district
of country, the holding a position; but it can very well
be only the first. We remind our readers that strategy
may follow a great diversity of objects, for everything
which appears an advantage may be the object of a combat,
and the preservation of the instrument with which
War is made must necessarily very often become the
object of its partial combinations.
If, therefore, in such a case strategy ministers only to
the maintenance of the troops, we are not on that account
out of the field of strategy, for we are still engaged
with the use of the military force, because every disposition
of that force upon any point Whatever of the
theatre of War is such a use.
But if the maintenance of the troops in camp or
quarters calls forth activities which are no employment
of the armed force, such as the construction of huts,
pitching of tents, subsistence and sanitary services in
camps or quarters, then such belong neither to strategy
Even entrenchments, the site and preparation of which
are plainly part of the order of battle, therefore tactical
subjects, do not belong to the theory of the conduct of
War so far as respects the execution of their construction
the knowledge and skill required for such work being, in
point of fact, qualities inherent in the nature of an
organised Army; the theory of the combat takes them
Amongst the subjects which belong to the mere keeping
up of an armed force, because none of the parts are
identified with the combat, the victualling of the troops
themselves comes first, as it must be done almost daily
and for each individual. Thus it is that it completely
permeates military action in the parts constituting
strategy--we say parts constituting strategy, because
during a battle the subsistence of troops will rarely have
any influence in modifying the plan, although the thing
is conceivable enough. The care for the subsistence of
the troops comes therefore into reciprocal action chiefly
with strategy, and there is nothing more common than
for the leading strategic features of a campaign and War
to be traced out in connection with a view to this supply.
But however frequent and however important these
views of supply may be, the subsistence of the troops
always remains a completely different activity from the
use of the troops, and the former has only an influence on
the latter by its results.
The other branches of administrative activity which
we have mentioned stand much farther apart from the
use of the troops. The care of sick and wounded, highly
important as it is for the good of an Army, directly affects
it only in a small portion of the individuals composing it,
and therefore has only a weak and indirect influence
upon the use of the rest. The completing and replacing
articles of arms and equipment, except so far as by the
organism of the forces it constitutes a continuous activity
inherent in them--takes place only periodically, and
therefore seldom affects strategic plans.
We must, however, here guard ourselves against a
mistake. In certain cases these subjects may be really
of decisive importance. The distance of hospitals and
depo^ts of munitions may very easily be imagined as the
sole cause of very important strategic decisions. We do
not wish either to contest that point or to throw it into
the shade. But we are at present occupied not with the
particular facts of a concrete case, but with abstract
theory; and our assertion therefore is that such an
influence is too rare to give the theory of sanitary measures
and the supply of munitions and arms an importance intheory of
of War such as to make it worth
while to include in the theory of the conduct of War the
consideration of the different ways and systems which
the above theories may furnish, in the same way as is
certainly necessary in regard to victualling troops.
If we have clearly understood the results of our reflections,
then the activities belonging to War divide themselves
into two principal classes, into such as are only
"preparations for War" and into the "War itself."
This division must therefore also be made in theory.
The knowledge and applications of skill in the preparations
for War are engaged in the creation, discipline, and
maintenance of all the military forces; what general
names should be given to them we do not enter into, but
we see that artillery, fortification, elementary tactics, as
they are called, the whole organisation and administration
of the various armed forces, and all such things are
included. But the theory of War itself occupies itself
with the use of these prepared means for the object of
the war. It needs of the first only the results, that is, the
knowledge of the principal properties of the means taken
in hand for use. This we call "The Art of War" in a
limited sense, or "Theory of the Conduct of War," or
"Theory of the Employment of Armed Forces," all of
them denoting for us the same thing.
The present theory will therefore treat the combat as
the real contest, marches, camps, and cantonments as
circumstances which are more or less identical with it.
The subsistence of the troops will only come into consideration
like OTHER GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES in respect of its
results, not as an activity belonging to the combat.
The Art of War thus viewed in its limited sense divides
itself again into tactics and strategy. The former occupies
itself with the form of the separate combat, the latter
with its use. Both connect themselves with the circumstances
of marches, camps, cantonments only through
the combat, and these circumstances are tactical or
strategic according as they relate to the form or to the
signification of the battle.
No doubt there will be many readers who will consider
superfluous this careful separation of two things lying so
close together as tactics and strategy, because it has no
direct effect on the conduct itself of War. We admit,
certainly that it would be pedantry to look for direct
effects on the field of battle from a theoretical distinction.
But the first business of every theory is to clear up
conceptions and ideas which have been jumbled together,
and, we may say, entangled and confused; and only when
a right understanding is established, as to names and
conceptions, can we hope to progress with clearness and
facility, and be certain that author and reader will always
see things from the same point of view. Tactics and
strategy are two activities mutually permeating each
other in time and space, at the same time essentially
different activities, the inner laws and mutual relations
of which cannot be intelligible at all to the mind until
a clear conception of the nature of each activity is
He to whom all this is nothing, must either repudiate
all theoretical consideration, OR HIS UNDERSTANDING HAS
NOT AS YET BEEN PAINED by the confused and perplexing
ideas resting on no fixed point of view, leading to no
satisfactory result, sometimes dull, sometimes fantastic,
sometimes floating in vague generalities, which we are
often obliged to hear and read on the conduct of War,
owing to the spirit of scientific investigation having
hitherto been little directed to these subjects.
CHAPTER II. ON THE THEORY OF WAR
1. THE FIRST CONCEPTION OF THE "ART OF WAR" WAS
MERELY THE PREPARATION OF THE ARMED FORCES.
FORMERLY by the term "Art of War," or "Science of
War," nothing was understood but the totality of those
branches of knowledge and those appliances of skill
occupied with material things. The pattern and preparation
and the mode of using arms, the construction of
fortifications and entrenchments, the organism of an army
and the mechanism of its movements, were the subjectthese
knowledge and skill above referred
to, and the end and aim of them all was the establishment
of an armed force fit for use in War. All this concerned
merely things belonging to the material world and a one-
sided activity only, and it was in fact nothing but an
activity advancing by gradations from the lower occupations
to a finer kind of mechanical art. The relation of
all this to War itself was very much the same as the relation
of the art of the sword cutler to the art of using the
sword. The employment in the moment of danger and
in a state of constant reciprocal action of the particular
energies of mind and spirit in the direction proposed to
them was not yet even mooted.
2. TRUE WAR FIRST APPEARS IN THE ART OF SIEGES.
In the art of sieges we first perceive a certain degree of
guidance of the combat, something of the action of the
intellectual faculties upon the material forces placed under
their control, but generally only so far that it very soon
embodied itself again in new material forms, such as
approaches, trenches, counter-approaches, batteries, &c.,
and every step which this action of the higher faculties
took was marked by some such result; it was only the
thread that was required on which to string these material
inventions in order. As the intellect can hardly manifest
itself in this kind of War, except in such things, so therefore
nearly all that was necessary was done in that way.
3. THEN TACTICS TRIED TO FIND ITS WAY IN
THE SAME DIRECTION.
Afterwards tactics attempted to give to the mechanism
of its joints the character of a general disposition, built
upon the peculiar properties of the instrument, which
character leads indeed to the battle-field, but instead of
leading to the free activity of mind, leads to an Army made
like an automaton by its rigid formations and orders of
battle, which, movable only by the word of command,
is intended to unwind its activities like a piece of clockwork.
4. THE REAL CONDUCT OF WAR ONLY MADE ITS
APPEARANCE INCIDENTALLY AND INCOGNITO.
The conduct of War properly so called, that is, a use of
the prepared means adapted to the most special requirements,
was not considered as any suitable subject for
theory, but one which should be left to natural talents
alone. By degrees, as War passed from the hand-to-hand
encounters of the middle ages into a more regular and
systematic form, stray reflections on this point also forced
themselves into men's minds, but they mostly appeared
only incidentally in memoirs and narratives, and in a
certain measure incognito.
5. REFLECTIONS ON MILITARY EVENTS BROUGHT
ABOUT THE WANT OF A THEORY.
As contemplation on War continually increased, and its
history every day assumed more of a critical character,
the urgent want appeared of the support of fixed maxims
and rules, in order that in the controversies naturally
arising about military events the war of opinions might
be brought to some one point. This whirl of opinions,
which neither revolved on any central pivot nor according
to any appreciable laws, could not but be very distasteful
to people's minds.
6. ENDEAVOURS TO ESTABLISH A POSITIVE THEORY.
There arose, therefore, an endeavour to establish
maxims, rules, and even systems for the conduct of War.
By this the attainment of a positive object was proposed,
without taking into view the endless difficulties which
the conduct of War presents in that respect. The conduct
of War, as we have shown, has no definite limits in
any direction, while every system has the circumscribing
nature of a synthesis, from which results an irreconcileable
opposition between such a theory and practice.
7. LIMITATION TO MATERIAL OBJECTS.
Writers on theory felt the difficulty of the subject soon
enough, and thought themselves entitled to get rid of it
by directing their maxims and systems only upon material
things and a one-sided activity. Their aim was to reach
results, as in the science for the preparation for War,
entirely certain and positive, and therefore only to take
into consideration that which could be made matter of
8. SUPERIORITY OF NUMBERS.
The superiority in numbers being a material condition,
it was chosen from amongst all the factors required to
produce victory, because it could be brought under
mathematical laws through combinations of time and
space. It was thought possible to leave out of sight all
other circumstances, by supposing them to be equal on
each side, and therefore to neutralise one another. This
would have been very well if it had been done to gain a
preliminary knowledge of this one factor, according to
its relations, but to make it a rule for ever to consider
superiority of numbers as the sole law; to see the whole
secret of the Art of War in the formula, IN A CERTAIN TIME,
AT A CERTAIN POINT, TO BRING UP SUPERIOR MASSES--was a
restriction overruled by the force of realities.
9. VICTUALLING OF TROOPS.
By one theoretical school an attempt was made to
systematise another material element also, by making the
subsistence of troops, according to a previously established
organism of the Army, the supreme legislator in the higher
conduct of War. In this way certainly they arrived at
definite figures, but at figures which rested on a number
of arbitrary calculations, and which therefore could not
stand the test of practical application.
An ingenious author tried to concentrate in a single
conception, that of a BASE, a whole host of objects
amongst which sundry relations even with immaterial
forces found their way in as well. The list comprised the
subsistence of the troops, the keeping them complete in
numbers and equipment, the security of communications
with the home country, lastly, the security of retreat in
case it became necessary; and, first of all, he proposed to
substitute this conception of a base for all these things;
then for the base itself to substitute its own length
(extent); and, last of all, to substitute the angle
formed by the army with this base: all this was done to obtain a
geometrical result utterly useless.
This last is, in fact, unavoidable, if we reflect that none
of these substitutions could be made without violating
truth and leaving out some of the things contained in the
original conception. The idea of a base is a real necessity
for strategy, and to have conceived it is meritorious;
but to make such a use of it as we have depicted is
completely inadmissible, and could not but lead to partial
conclusions which have forced these theorists into a direction
opposed to common sense, namely, to a belief in the
decisive effect of the enveloping form of attack.
11. INTERIOR LINES.
As a reaction against this false direction, another
geometrical principle, that of the so-called interior lines,
was then elevated to the throne. Although this principle
rests on a sound foundation, on the truth that the combat
is the only effectual means in War, still it is, just on
account of its purely geometrical nature, nothing but
another case of one-sided theory which can never gain
ascendency in the real world.
12. ALL THESE ATTEMPTS ARE OPEN TO OBJECTION.
All these attempts at theory are only to be considered
in their analytical part as progress in the province of truth,
but in their synthetical part, in their precepts and rules,
they are quite unserviceable.
They strive after determinate quantities, whilst in War
all is undetermined, and the calculation has always to
be made with varying quantities.
They direct the attention only upon material forces,
while the whole military action is penetrated throughout
by intelligent forces and their effects.
They only pay regard to activity on one side, whilst
War is a constant state of reciprocal action, the effects of
which are mutual.
13. AS A RULE THEY EXCLUDE GENIUS.
All that was not attainable by such miserable philosophy,
the offspring of partial views, lay outside the
precincts of science--and was the field of genius, which
RAISES ITSELF ABOVE RULES.
Pity the warrior who is contented to crawl about in
this beggardom of rules, which are too bad for genius,
over which it can set itself superior, over which it can
perchance make merry! What genius does must be
the best of all rules, and theory cannot do better than to
show how and why it is so.
Pity the theory which sets itself in opposition to the
mind! It cannot repair this contradiction by any
humility, and the humbler it is so much the sooner will
ridicule and contempt drive it out of real life.
14. THE DIFFICULTY OF THEORY AS SOON AS MORAL
QUANTITIES COME INTO CONSIDERATION.
Every theory becomes infinitely more difficult from the
moment that it touches on the province of moral quantities.
Architecture and painting know quite well what
they are about as long as they have only to do with matter;
there is no dispute about mechanical or optical construction.
But as soon as the moral activities begin their
work, as soon as moral impressions and feelings are produced,
the whole set of rules dissolves into vague ideas.
The science of medicine is chiefly engaged with bodily
phenomena only; its business is with the animal organism,
which, liable to perpetual change, is never exactly the
same for two moments. This makes its practice very
difficult, and places the judgment of the physician above
his science; but how much more difficult is the case if a
moral effect is added, and how much higher must we place
the physician of the mind?
15. THE MORAL QUANTITIES MUST NOT BE
EXCLUDED IN WAR.
But now the activity in War is never directed solely
against matter; it is always at the same time directed
against the intelligent force which gives life to this matter,
and to separate the two from each other is impossible.
But the intelligent forces are only visible to the inner
eye, and this is different in each person, and often different
in the same person at different times.
As danger is the general element in which everything
moves in War, it is also chiefly by courage, the feeling of
one's own power, that the judgment is differently influenced.
It is to a certain extent the crystalline lens
through which all appearances pass before reaching the
And yet we cannot doubt that these things acquire a
certain objective value simply through experience.
Every one knows the moral effect of a surprise, of an
attack in flank or rear. Every one thinks less of the
enemy's courage as soon as he turns his back, and ventures
much more in pursuit than when pursued. Every
one judges of the enemy's General by his reputed talents,
by his age and experience, and shapes his course accordingly.
Every one casts a scrutinising glance at the spirit
and feeling of his own and the enemy's troops. All these
and similar effects in the province of the moral nature
of man have established themselves by experience, are
perpetually recurring, and therefore warrant our reckoning
them as real quantities of their kind. What
could we do with any theory which should leave them
out of consideration?
Certainly experience is an indispensable title for these
truths. With psychological and philosophical sophistries
no theory, no General, should meddle.
16. PRINCIPAL DIFFICULTY OF A THEORY FOR THE
CONDUCT OF WAR.
In order to comprehend clearly the difficulty of the
proposition which is contained in a theory for the conduct
of War, and thence to deduce the necessary characteristics
of such a theory, we must take a closer view of the chief
particulars which make up the nature of activity in War.
17. FIRST SPECIALITY.--MORAL FORCES AND THEIR
The first of these specialities consists in the moral
forces and effects.
The combat is, in its origin, the expression of HOSTILE
FEELING, but in our great combats, which we call Wars,
the hostile feeling frequently resolves itself into merely
a hostile VIEW, and there is usually no innate hostile
feeling residing in individual against individual. Nevertheless,
the combat never passes off without such feelings
being brought into activity. National hatred, which is
seldom wanting in our Wars, is a substitute for personal
hostility in the breast of individual opposed to individual.
But where this also is wanting, and at first no animosity
of feeling subsists, a hostile feeling is kindled by the
combat itself; for an act of violence which any one
commits upon us by order of his superior, will excite in
us a desire to retaliate and be revenged on him, sooner
than on the superior power at whose command the act
was done. This is human, or animal if we will; still it
is so. We are very apt to regard the combat in theory
as an abstract trial of strength, without any participation
on the part of the feelings, and that is one of the thousand
errors which theorists deliberately commit, because they
do not see its consequences.
Besides that excitation of feelings naturally arising
from the combat itself, there are others also which do not
essentially belong to it, but which, on account of their
relationship, easily unite with it--ambition, love of power,
enthusiasm of every kind, &c. &c.
18. THE IMPRESSIONS OF DANGER.
Finally, the combat begets the element of danger, in
which all the activities of War must live and move, like
the bird in the air or the fish in the water. But the
influences of danger all pass into the feelings, either
directly--that is, instinctively--or through the medium
of the understanding. The effect in the first case would
be a desire to escape from the danger, and, if that cannot
be done, fright and anxiety. If this effect does not take
place, then it is COURAGE, which is a counterpoise to that
instinct. Courage is, however, by no means an act of
the understanding, but likewise a feeling, like fear; the
latter looks to the physical preservation, courage to the
moral preservation. Courage, then, is a nobler instinct.
But because it is so, it will not allow itself to be used as
a lifeless instrument, which produces its effects exactly
according to prescribed measure. Courage is therefore
no mere counterpoise to danger in order to neutralise
the latter in its effects, but a peculiar power in itself.
19. EXTENT OF THE INFLUENCE OF DANGER.
But to estimate exactly the influence of danger upon
the principal actors in War, we must not limit its sphere
to the physical danger of the moment. It dominates
over the actor, not only by threatening him, but also
by threatening all entrusted to him, not only at the
moment in which it is actually present, but also through
the imagination at all other moments, which have a
connection with the present; lastly, not only directly by
itself, but also indirectly by the responsibility which
makes it bear with tenfold weight on the mind of the chief
actor. Who could advise, or resolve upon a great battle,
without feeling his mind more or less wrought up, or perplexed
by, the danger and responsibility which such a
great act of decision carries in itself? We may say that
action in War, in so far as it is real action, not a mere
condition, is never out of the sphere of danger.
20. OTHER POWERS OF FEELING.
If we look upon these affections which are excited
by hostility and danger as peculiarly belonging to War,
we do not, therefore, exclude from it all others
accompanying man in his life's journey. They will also find
room here frequently enough. Certainly we may say
that many a petty action of the passions is silenced in
this serious business of life; but that holds good only
in respect to those acting in a lower sphere, who, hurried
on from one state of danger and exertion to another,
lose sight of the rest of the things of life, BECOME UNUSED
TO DECEIT, because it is of no avail with death, and so
attain to that soldierly simplicity of character which
has always been the best representative of the military
profession. In higher regions it is otherwise, for the
higher a man's rank, the more he must look around him;
then arise interests on every side, and a manifold activity
of the passions of good and bad. Envy and generosity,
pride and humility, fierceness and tenderness, all may
appear as active powers in this great drama.
21. PECULIARITY OF MIND.
The peculiar characteristics of mind in the chief actor
have, as well as those of the feelings, a high importance.
From an imaginative, flighty, inexperienced head, and
from a calm, sagacious understanding, different things
are to be expected.
22. FROM THE DIVERSITY IN MENTAL INDIVIDUALITIES
ARISES THE DIVERSITY OF WAYS LEADING TO THE
It is this great diversity in mental individuality, the
influence of which is to be supposed as chiefly felt in the
higher ranks, because it increases as we progress upwards,
which chiefly produces the diversity of ways leading to the
end noticed by us in the first book, and which gives, to the
play of probabilities and chance, such an unequal share in
determining the course of events.
23. SECOND PECULIARITY.--LIVING REACTION.
The second peculiarity in War is the living reaction,
and the reciprocal action resulting therefrom. We do
not here speak of the difficulty of estimating that reaction,
for that is included in the difficulty before mentioned,
of treating the moral powers as quantities; but of this,
that reciprocal action, by its nature, opposes anything
like a regular plan. The effect which any measure produces
upon the enemy is the most distinct of all the data
which action affords; but every theory must keep to
classes (or groups) of phenomena, and can never take up
the really individual case in itself: that must everywhere
be left to judgment and talent. It is therefore natural
that in a business such as War, which in its plan--built
upon general circumstances--is so often thwarted by
unexpected and singular accidents, more must generally
be left to talent; and less use can be made of a THEORETICAL
GUIDE than in any other.
24. THIRD PECULIARITY.--UNCERTAINTY OF ALL DATA.
Lastly, the great uncertainty of all data in War is a
peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain
extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition
not unfrequently--like the effect of a fog or moonshine--
gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural
What this feeble light leaves indistinct to the sight
talent must discover, or must be left to chance. It is
therefore again talent, or the favour of fortune, on which
reliance must be placed, for want of objective knowledge.
25. POSITIVE THEORY IS IMPOSSIBLE.
With materials of this kind we can only say to ourselves
that it is a sheer impossibility to construct for the Art of
War a theory which, like a scaffolding, shall ensure to
the chief actor an external support on all sides. In all
those cases in which he is thrown upon his talent he would
find himself away from this scaffolding of theory and in
opposition to it, and, however many-sided it might be
framed, the same result would ensue of which we spoke
when we said that talent and genius act beyond the law,
and theory is in opposition to reality.
26. MEANS LEFT BY WHICH A THEORY IS POSSIBLE
(THE DIFFICULTIES ARE NOT EVERYWHERE EQUALLY
Two means present themselves of getting out of this
difficulty. In the first place, what we have said of the
nature of military action in general does not apply in
the same manner to the action of every one, whatever
may be his standing. In the lower ranks the spirit of
self-sacrifice is called more into request, but the difficulties
which the understanding and judgment meet with are
infinitely less. The field of occurrences is more confined.
Ends and means are fewer in number. Data more
distinct; mostly also contained in the actually visible.
But the higher we ascend the more the difficulties increase,
until in the Commander-in-Chief they reach their climax,
so that with him almost everything must be left to genius.
Further, according to a division of the subject in AGREEMENT
WITH ITS NATURE, the difficulties are not everywhere
the same, but diminish the more results manifest themselves
in the material world, and increase the more they
pass into the moral, and become motives which influence
the will. Therefore it is easier to determine, by theoretical
rules, the order and conduct of a battle, than the use to
be made of the battle itself. Yonder physical weapons
clash with each other, and although mind is not wanting
therein, matter must have its rights. But in the effects
to be produced by battles when the material results
become motives, we have only to do with the moral
nature. In a word, it is easier to make a theory for
TACTICS than for STRATEGY.
27. THEORY MUST BE OF THE NATURE OF OBSERVATIONS
NOT OF DOCTRINE.
The second opening for the possibility of a theory lies
in the point of view that it does not necessarily require
to be a DIRECTION for action. As a general rule, whenever
an ACTIVITY is for the most part occupied with the same
objects over and over again, with the same ends and
means, although there may be trifling alterations and a
corresponding number of varieties of combination, such
things are capable of becoming a subject of study for the
reasoning faculties. But such study is just the most
essential part of every THEORY, and has a peculiar title to
that name. It is an analytical investigation of the subject
that leads to an exact knowledge; and if brought
to bear on the results of experience, which in our case
would be military history, to a thorough familiarity with
it. The nearer theory attains the latter object, so much
the more it passes over from the objective form of knowledge into
subjective one of skill in action; and so
much the more, therefore, it will prove itself effective
when circumstances allow of no other decision but that
of personal talents; it will show its effects in that talent
itself. If theory investigates the subjects which constitute
War; if it separates more distinctly that which
at first sight seems amalgamated; if it explains fully the
properties of the means; if it shows their probable effects;
if it makes evident the nature of objects; if it brings to
bear all over the field of War the light of essentially
critical investigation--then it has fulfilled the chief
duties of its province. It becomes then a guide to him
who wishes to make himself acquainted with War from
books; it lights up the whole road for him, facilitates his
progress, educates his judgment, and shields him from
If a man of expertness spends half his life in the endeavour
to clear up an obscure subject thoroughly, he will
probably know more about it than a person who seeks
to master it in a short time. Theory is instituted that
each person in succession may not have to go through
the same labour of clearing the ground and toiling through
his subject, but may find the thing in order, and light
admitted on it. It should educate the mind of the future
leader in War, or rather guide him in his self-instruction,
but not accompany him to the field of battle; just as a
sensible tutor forms and enlightens the opening mind of a
youth without, therefore, keeping him in leading strings
all through his life.
If maxims and rules result of themselves from the considerations
which theory institutes, if the truth accretes
itself into that form of crystal, then theory will not oppose
this natural law of the mind; it will rather, if the arch
ends in such a keystone, bring it prominently out; but
so does this, only in order to satisfy the philosophical
law of reason, in order to show distinctly the point to
which the lines all converge, not in order to form out of
it an algebraical formula for use upon the battle-field;
for even these maxims and rules serve more to determine
in the reflecting mind the leading outline of its habitual
movements than as landmarks indicating to it the way
in the act of execution.
28. BY THIS POINT OF VIEW THEORY BECOMES POSSIBLE,
AND CEASES TO BE IN CONTRADICTION TO PRACTICE.
Taking this point of view, there is a possibility afforded
of a satisfactory, that is, of a useful, theory of the conduct
of War, never coming into opposition with the reality,
and it will only depend on rational treatment to bring it
so far into harmony with action that between theory
and practice there shall no longer be that absurd difference
which an unreasonable theory, in defiance of common
sense, has often produced, but which, just as often,
narrow-mindedness and ignorance have used as a pretext
for giving way to their natural incapacity.
29. THEORY THEREFORE CONSIDERS THE NATURE OF
ENDS AND MEANS--ENDS AND MEANS IN TACTICS.
Theory has therefore to consider the nature of the
means and ends.
In tactics the means are the disciplined armed forces
which are to carry on the contest. The object is victory.
The precise definition of this conception can be better
explained hereafter in the consideration of the combat.
Here we content ourselves by denoting the retirement of
the enemy from the field of battle as the sign of victory.
By means of this victory strategy gains the object for
which it appointed the combat, and which constitutes
its special signification. This signification has certainly
some influence on the nature of the victory. A victory
which is intended to weaken the enemy's armed forces
is a different thing from one which is designed only to put
us in possession of a position. The signification of a
combat may therefore have a sensible influence on the
preparation and conduct of it, consequently will be also
a subject of consideration in tactics.
30. CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH ALWAYS ATTEND THE
APPLICATION OF THE MEANS.
As there are certain circumstances which attend the
combat throughout, and have more or less influence upon
its result, therefore these must be taken into consideration
in the application of the armed forces.
These circumstances are the locality of the combat
(ground), the time of day, and the weather.
The locality, which we prefer leaving for solution,
under the head of "Country and Ground," might, strictly
speaking, be without any influence at all if the combat
took place on a completely level and uncultivated plain.
In a country of steppes such a case may occur, but in
the cultivated countries of Europe it is almost an imaginary
idea. Therefore a combat between civilised nations, in
which country and ground have no influence, is hardly
32. TIME OF DAY.
The time of day influences the combat by the difference
between day and night; but the influence naturally
extends further than merely to the limits of these divisions,
as every combat has a certain duration, and great battles
last for several hours. In the preparations for a great
battle, it makes an essential difference whether it begins
in the morning or the evening. At the same time, certainly many
be fought in which the question of the time of day is quite
in the generality of cases its influence is only trifling.
Still more rarely has the weather any decisive influence,
and it is mostly only by fogs that it plays a part.
34. END AND MEANS IN STRATEGY.
Strategy has in the first instance only the victory,
that is, the tactical result, as a means to its object, and
ultimately those things which lead directly to peace.
The application of its means to this object is at the same
time attended by circumstances which have an influence
thereon more or less.
35. CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH ATTEND THE APPLICATION
OF THE MEANS OF STRATEGY.
These circumstances are country and ground, the
former including the territory and inhabitants of the whole
theatre of war; next the time of the day, and the time of
the year as well; lastly, the weather, particularly any
unusual state of the same, severe frost, &c.
36. THESE FORM NEW MEANS.
By bringing these things into combination with the
results of a combat, strategy gives this result--and therefore
the combat--a special signification, places before it
a particular object. But when this object is not that
which leads directly to peace, therefore a subordinate
one, it is only to be looked upon as a means; and therefore
in strategy we may look upon the results of combats
or victories, in all their different significations, as means.
The conquest of a position is such a result of a combat
applied to ground. But not only are the different
combats with special objects to be considered as means,
but also every higher aim which we may have in view
in the combination of battles directed on a common
object is to be regarded as a means. A winter campaign
is a combination of this kind applied to the season.
There remain, therefore, as objects, only those things
which may be supposed as leading DIRECTLY to peace,
Theory investigates all these ends and means according
to the nature of their effects and their mutual relations.
37. STRATEGY DEDUCES ONLY FROM EXPERIENCE THE
ENDS AND MEANS TO BE EXAMINED.
The first question is, How does strategy arrive at a
complete list of these things? If there is to be a philosophical
inquiry leading to an absolute result, it would
become entangled in all those difficulties which the logical
necessity of the conduct of War and its theory exclude.
It therefore turns to experience, and directs its attention
on those combinations which military history can furnish.
In this manner, no doubt, nothing more than a limited
theory can be obtained, which only suits circumstances
such as are presented in history. But this incompleteness
is unavoidable, because in any case theory must either
have deduced from, or have compared with, history
what it advances with respect to things. Besides, this
incompleteness in every case is more theoretical than real.
One great advantage of this method is that theory
cannot lose itself in abstruse disquisitions, subtleties,
and chimeras, but must always remain practical.
38. HOW FAR THE ANALYSIS OF THE MEANS SHOULD
Another question is, How far should theory go in its
analysis of the means? Evidently only so far as the
elements in a separate form present themselves for consideration
practice. The range and effect of different
weapons is very important to tactics; their construction,
although these effects result from it, is a matter of
indifference; for the conduct of War is not making powder
and cannon out of a given quantity of charcoal, sulphur,
and saltpetre, of copper and tin: the given quantities
for the conduct of War are arms in a finished state and
their effects. Strategy makes use of maps without
troubling itself about triangulations; it does not inquire
how the country is subdivided into departments and
provinces, and how the people are educated and governed,
in order to attain the best military results; but it takes
things as it finds them in the community of European
States, and observes where very different conditions have
a notable influence on War.
39. GREAT SIMPLIFICATION OF THE KNOWLEDGE
That in this manner the number of subjects for theory
is much simplified, and the knowledge requisite for the
conduct of War much reduced, is easy to perceive. The
very great mass of knowledge and appliances of skill
which minister to the action of War in general, and which
are necessary before an army fully equipped can take
the field, unite in a few great results before they are able
to reach, in actual War, the final goal of their activity;
just as the streams of a country unite themselves in
rivers before they fall into the sea. Only those activities
emptying themselves directly into the sea of War have
to be studied by him who is to conduct its operations.
40. THIS EXPLAINS THE RAPID GROWTH OF GREAT
GENERALS, AND WHY A GENERAL IS NOT A MAN
This result of our considerations is in fact so necessary,any
have made us distrustful of their
accuracy. Only thus is explained how so often men
have made their appearance with great success in War,
and indeed in the higher ranks even in supreme Command,
whose pursuits had been previously of a totally different
nature; indeed how, as a rule, the most distinguished
Generals have never risen from the very learned or really
erudite class of officers, but have been mostly men who,
from the circumstances of their position, could not have
attained to any great amount of knowledge. On that
account those who have considered it necessary or even
beneficial to commence the education of a future General
by instruction in all details have always been ridiculed
as absurd pedants. It would be easy to show the injurious
tendency of such a course, because the human mind is
trained by the knowledge imparted to it and the direction
given to its ideas. Only what is great can make it
great; the little can only make it little, if the mind itself
does not reject it as something repugnant.
41. FORMER CONTRADICTIONS.
Because this simplicity of knowledge requisite in War
was not attended to, but that knowledge was always
jumbled up with the whole impedimenta of subordinate
sciences and arts, therefore the palpable opposition to
the events of real life which resulted could not be solved
otherwise than by ascribing it all to genius, which requires
no theory and for which no theory could be prescribed.
42. ON THIS ACCOUNT ALL USE OF KNOWLEDGE WAS
DENIED, AND EVERYTHING ASCRIBED TO NATURAL
People with whom common sense had the upper hand
felt sensible of the immense distance remaining to be filled
up between a genius of the highest order and a learned
pedant; and they became in a manner free-thinkers,
rejected all belief in theory, and affirmed the conduct of
War to be a natural function of man, which he performs
more or less well according as he has brought with him
into the world more or less talent in that direction. It
cannot be denied that these were nearer to the truth than
those who placed a value on false knowledge: at the same
time it may easily be seen that such a view is itself but
an exaggeration. No activity of the human understanding
is possible without a certain stock of ideas;
but these are, for the greater part at least, not innate but
acquired, and constitute his knowledge. The only question
therefore is, of what kind should these ideas be; and
we think we have answered it if we say that they should be
directed on those things which man has directly to deal
with in War.
43. THE KNOWLEDGE MUST BE MADE SUITABLE TO THE
Inside this field itself of military activity, the knowledge
required must be different according to the station of
the Commander. It will be directed on smaller and more
circumscribed objects if he holds an inferior, upon greater
and more comprehensive ones if he holds a higher situation.
There are Field Marshals who would not have
shone at the head of a cavalry regiment, and vice versa.
44. THE KNOWLEDGE IN WAR IS VERY SIMPLE, BUT NOT,
AT THE SAME TIME, VERY EASY.
But although the knowledge in War is simple, that
is to say directed to so few subjects, and taking up
those only in their final results, the art of execution
is not, on that account, easy. Of the difficulties to
which activity in War is subject generally, we have
already spoken in the first book; we here omit those
things which can only be overcome by courage, and
maintain also that the activity of mind, is only simple,
and easy in inferior stations, but increases in difficulty
with increase of rank, and in the highest position, in that
of Commander-in-Chief, is to be reckoned among the
most difficult which there is for the human mind.
45. OF THE NATURE OF THIS KNOWLEDGE.
The Commander of an Army neither requires to be a
learned explorer of history nor a publicist, but he must be
well versed in the higher affairs of State; he must know,
and be able to judge correctly of traditional tendencies,
interests at stake, the immediate questions at issue, and
the characters of leading persons; he need not be a close
observer of men, a sharp dissector of human character,
but he must know the character, the feelings, the habits,
the peculiar faults and inclinations of those whom he is
to command. He need not understand anything about
the make of a carriage, or the harness of a battery horse,
but he must know how to calculate exactly the march of
a column, under different circumstances, according to
the time it requires. These are matters the knowledge
of which cannot be forced out by an apparatus of scientific
formula and machinery: they are only to be gained by
the exercise of an accurate judgment in the observation
of things and of men, aided by a special talent for the
apprehension of both.
The necessary knowledge for a high position in military.
action is therefore distinguished by this, that by observation,
therefore by study and reflection, it is only to be
attained through a special talent which as an intellectual
instinct understands how to extract from the phenomena
of life only the essence or spirit, as bees do the honey
from the flowers; and that it is also to be gained by
experience of life as well as by study and reflection. Life
will never bring forth a Newton or an Euler by its rich
teachings, but it may bring forth great calculators in War,
such as Conde' or Frederick.
It is therefore not necessary that, in order to vindicate
the intellectual dignity of military activity, we should
resort to untruth and silly pedantry. There never has
been a great and distinguished Commander of contracted
mind, but very numerous are the instances of men who,
after serving with the greatest distinction in inferior
positions, remained below mediocrity in the highest, from
insufficiency of intellectual capacity. That even amongst
those holding the post of Commander-in-Chief there may
be a difference according to the degree of their plenitude
of power is a matter of course.
46. SCIENCE MUST BECOME ART.
Now we have yet to consider one condition which is
more necessary for the knowledge of the conduct of War
than for any other, which is, that it must pass completely
into the mind and almost completely cease to be something
objective. In almost all other arts and occupations
of life the active agent can make use of truths which he
has only learnt once, and in the spirit and sense of which
he no longer lives, and which he extracts from dusty
books. Even truths which he has in hand and uses daily
may continue something external to himself, If the
architect takes up a pen to settle the strength of a pier
by a complicated calculation, the truth found as a result
is no emanation from his own mind. He had first to
find the data with labour, and then to submit these to an
operation of the mind, the rule for which he did not
discover, the necessity of which he is perhaps at the
moment only partly conscious of, but which he applies,
for the most part, as if by mechanical dexterity. But
it is never so in War. The moral reaction, the ever-
changeful form of things, makes it necessary for the chief
actor to carry in himself the whole mental apparatus
of his knowledge, that anywhere and at every pulse-beat
he may be capable of giving the requisite decision from
himself. Knowledge must, by this complete assimilation
with his own mind and life, be converted into real power.
This is the reason why everything seems so easy with
men distinguished in War, and why everything is ascribed
to natural talent. We say natural talent, in order thereby
to distinguish it from that which is formed and matured
by observation and study.
We think that by these reflections we have explained
the problem of a theory of the conduct of War; and pointed
out the way to its solution.
Of the two fields into which we have divided the conduct
of War, tactics and strategy, the theory of the latter
contains unquestionably, as before observed, the greatest
difficulties, because the first is almost limited to a
field of objects, but the latter, in the direction of
objects leading directly to peace, opens to itself an
unlimited field of possibilities. Since for the most part
the Commander-in-Chief has only to keep these objects
steadily in view, therefore the part of strategy in which
he moves is also that which is particularly subject to this
Theory, therefore, especially where it comprehends
the highest services, will stop much sooner in strategy
than in tactics at the simple consideration of things, and
content itself to assist the Commander to that insight
into things which, blended with his whole thought,
makes his course easier and surer, never forces him into
opposition with himself in order to obey an objective
CHAPTER III. ART OR SCIENCE OF WAR
1.--USAGE STILL UNSETTLED
(POWER AND KNOWLEDGE. SCIENCE WHEN MERE KNOWING;
ART, WHEN DOING, IS THE OBJECT.)
THE choice between these terms seems to be still unsettled,
and no one seems to know rightly on what grounds
it should be decided, and yet the thing is simple. We
have already said elsewhere that "knowing" is something
different from "doing." The two are so different that they
should not easily be mistaken the one for the other. The
"doing" cannot properly stand in any book, and therefore
also Art should never be the title of a book. But because
we have once accustomed ourselves to combine in conception,
under the name of theory of Art, or simply Art,
the branches of knowledge (which may be separately
pure sciences) necessary for the practice of an Art,
therefore it is consistent to continue this ground of
distinction, and to call everything Art when the object
is to carry out the "doing" (being able), as for example,
Art of building; Science, when merely knowledge is the
object; as Science of mathematics, of astronomy. That
in every Art certain complete sciences may be included is
intelligible of itself, and should not perplex us. But still
it is worth observing that there is also no science without
a mixture of Art. In mathematics, for instance, the use
of figures and of algebra is an Art, but that is only one
amongst many instances. The reason is, that however
plain and palpable the difference is between knowledge
and power in the composite results of human knowledge,
yet it is difficult to trace out their line of separation in
2. DIFFICULTY OF SEPARATING PERCEPTION FROM JUDGMENT.
(ART OF WAR.)
All thinking is indeed Art. Where the logician draws
the line, where the premises stop which are the result
of cognition--where judgment begins, there Art begins.
But more than this even the perception of the mind is
judgment again, and consequently Art; and at last,
even the perception by the senses as well. In a word,
if it is impossible to imagine a human being possessing
merely the faculty of cognition, devoid of judgment or
the reverse, so also Art and Science can never be
completely separated from each other. The more these
subtle elements of light embody themselves in the outward
forms of the world, so much the more separate
appear their domains; and now once more, where the
object is creation and production, there is the province
of Art; where the object is investigation and knowledge
Science holds sway.--After all this it results of itself that
it is more fitting to say Art of War than Science of War.
So much for this, because we cannot do without these
conceptions. But now we come forward with the assertion
that War is neither an Art nor a Science in the real
signification, and that it is just the setting out from that
starting-point of ideas which has led to a wrong direction
being taken, which has caused War to be put on a par
with other arts and sciences, and has led to a number of
This has indeed been felt before now, and on that it was
War is a handicraft; but there was more lost than gained by that,
handicraft is only an inferior art, and as such is also subject
to definite and rigid laws. In reality the Art of War did
go on for some time in the spirit of a handicraft--we
allude to the times of the Condottieri--but then it received
that direction, not from intrinsic but from external
causes; and military history shows how little it was at
that time in accordance with the nature of the thing.
3. WAR IS PART OF THE INTERCOURSE OF THE HUMAN
We say therefore War belongs not to the province of
Arts and Sciences, but to the province of social life. It
is a conflict of great interests which is settled by bloodshed,
and only in that is it different from others. It
would be better, instead of comparing it with any Art, to
liken it to business competition, which is also a conflict of
human interests and activities; and it is still more like
State policy, which again, on its part, may be looked upon
as a kind of business competition on a great scale. Besides,
State policy is the womb in which War is developed, in
which its outlines lie hidden in a rudimentary state, like
the qualities of living creatures in their germs.[*]
[*] The analogy has become much closer since Clausewitz's time.
that the first business of the State is regarded as the
facilities for trade, War between great nations is only a
time. No Hague Conferences can avert it--EDITOR.
The essential difference consists in this, that War is no
activity of the will, which exerts itself upon inanimate
matter like the mechanical Arts; or upon a living but
still passive and yielding subject, like the human mind
and the human feelings in the ideal Arts, but against a
living and reacting force. How little the categories
of Arts and Sciences are applicable to such an activity
strikes us at once; and we can understand at the same
time how that constant seeking and striving after laws
like those which may be developed out of the dead
material world could not but lead to constant errors.
And yet it is just the mechanical Arts that some people
would imitate in the Art of War. The imitation of the
ideal Arts was quite out of the question, because these
themselves dispense too much with laws and rules, and
those hitherto tried, always acknowledged as insufficient
and one-sided, are perpetually undermined and washed
away by the current of opinions, feelings, and customs.
Whether such a conflict of the living, as takes place
and is settled in War, is subject to general laws, and
whether these are capable of indicating a useful line of
action, will be partly investigated in this book; but so
much is evident in itself, that this, like every other
subject which does not surpass our powers of understanding,
may be lighted up, and be made more or less
plain in its inner relations by an inquiring mind, and
that alone is sufficient to realise the idea of a THEORY.
CHAPTER IV. METHODICISM
IN order to explain ourselves clearly as to the conception
of method, and method of action, which play such an important
part in War, we must be allowed to cast a hasty
glance at the logical hierarchy through which, as through
regularly constituted official functionaries, the world
of action is governed.
LAW, in the widest sense strictly applying to perception
as well as action, has plainly something subjective and
arbitrary in its literal meaning, and expresses just
that on which we and those things external to us are
dependent. As a subject of cognition, LAW is the relation
of things and their effects to one another; as a subject
of the will, it is a motive of action, and is then equivalent
to COMMAND or PROHIBITION.
PRINCIPLE is likewise such a law for action, except that
it has not the formal definite meaning, but is only the
spirit and sense of law in order to leave the judgment
more freedom of application when the diversity of the
real world cannot be laid hold of under the definite form
of a law. As the judgment must of itself suggest the
cases in which the principle is not applicable, the latter
therefore becomes in that way a real aid or guiding star
for the person acting.
Principle is OBJECTIVE when it is the result of objective
truth, and consequently of equal value for all men;
it is SUBJECTIVE, and then generally called MAXIM if there
are subjective relations in it, and if it therefore has a
certain value only for the person himself who makes it.
RULE is frequently taken in the sense of LAW, and then
means the same as Principle, for we say "no rule without
exceptions," but we do not say "no law without exceptions,"
a sign that with RULE we retain to ourselves
more freedom of application.
In another meaning RULE is the means used of discerning
a recondite truth in a particular sign lying close at hand,
in order to attach to this particular sign the law of action
directed upon the whole truth. Of this kind are all the
rules of games of play, all abridged processes in mathematics,
DIRECTIONS and INSTRUCTIONS are determinations of action
which have an influence upon a number of minor circumstances
too numerous and unimportant for general
Lastly, METHOD, MODE OF ACTING, is an always recurring
proceeding selected out of several possible ones; and
METHODICISM (METHODISMUS) is that which is determined
by methods instead of by general principles or particular
prescriptions. By this the cases which are placed under
such methods must necessarily be supposed alike in their
essential parts. As they cannot all be this, then the
point is that at least as many as possible should be; in
other words, that Method should be calculated on the most
probable cases. Methodicism is therefore not founded
on determined particular premises, but on the average
probability of cases one with another; and its ultimate
tendency is to set up an average truth, the constant and
uniform, application of which soon acquires something
of the nature of a mechanical appliance, which in the end
does that which is right almost unwittingly.
The conception of law in relation to perception is
not necessary for the conduct of War, because the complex
phenomena of War are not so regular, and the regular are
not so complex, that we should gain anything more by
this conception than by the simple truth. And where
a simple conception and language is sufficient, to resort
to the complex becomes affected and pedantic. The
conception of law in relation to action cannot be used in
the theory of the conduct of War, because owing to the
variableness and diversity of the phenomena there is
in it no determination of such a general nature as to
deserve the name of law.
But principles, rules, prescriptions, and methods are
conceptions indispensable to a theory of the conduct of
War, in so far as that theory leads to positive doctrines,
because in doctrines the truth can only crystallise itself
in such forms.
As tactics is the branch of the conduct of War in which
theory can attain the nearest to positive doctrine, therefore
these conceptions will appear in it most frequently.
Not to use cavalry against unbroken infantry except
in some case of special emergency, only to use firearms
within effective range in the combat, to spare the forces
as much as possible for the final struggle--these are
tactical principles. None of them can be applied absolutely in
but they must always be present to
the mind of the Chief, in order that the benefit of the truth
contained in them may not be lost in cases where that
truth can be of advantage.
If from the unusual cooking by an enemy's camp his
movement is inferred, if the intentional exposure of troops
in a combat indicates a false attack, then this way of
discerning the truth is called rule, because from a single
visible circumstance that conclusion is drawn which
corresponds with the same.
If it is a rule to attack the enemy with renewed vigour,
as soon as he begins to limber up his artillery in the combat,
then on this particular fact depends a course of action
which is aimed at the general situation of the enemy as
inferred from the above fact, namely, that he is about
to give up the fight, that he is commencing to draw off
his troops, and is neither capable of making a serious
stand while thus drawing off nor of making his retreat
gradually in good order.
REGULATIONS and METHODS bring preparatory theories
into the conduct of War, in so far as disciplined troops
are inoculated with them as active principles. The whole
body of instructions for formations, drill, and field
service are regulations and methods: in the drill
instructions the first predominate, in the field service
instructions the latter. To these things the real conduct
of War attaches itself; it takes them over, therefore, as
given modes of proceeding, and as such they must appear
in the theory of the conduct of War.
But for those activities retaining freedom in the employment
of these forces there cannot be regulations, that is,
definite instructions, because they would do away with
freedom of action. Methods, on the other hand, as a
general way of executing duties as they arise, calculated,
as we have said, on an average of probability, or as a
dominating influence of principles and rules carried through
to application, may certainly appear in the theory of
the conduct of War, provided only they are not represented
as something different from what they are,
not as the absolute and necessary modes of action
(systems), but as the best of general forms which may
be used as shorter ways in place of a particular disposition
for the occasion, at discretion.
But the frequent application of methods will be seen
to be most essential and unavoidable in the conduct of
War, if we reflect how much action proceeds on mere
conjecture, or in complete uncertainty, because one side
is prevented from learning all the circumstances which
influence the dispositions of the other, or because, even
if these circumstances which influence the decisions of
the one were really known, there is not, owing to their
extent and the dispositions they would entail, sufficient
time for the other to carry out all necessary counteracting
measures--that therefore measures in War must always
be calculated on a certain number of possibilities; if we
reflect how numberless are the trifling things belonging
to any single event, and which therefore should be taken
into account along with it, and that therefore there is no
other means to suppose the one counteracted by the other,
and to base our arrangements only upon what is of a
general nature and probable; if we reflect lastly that,
owing to the increasing number of officers as we descend
the scale of rank, less must be left to the true discernment
and ripe judgment of individuals the lower the sphere of
action, and that when we reach those ranks where we
can look for no other notions but those which the regulations
of the service and experience afford, we must help
them with the methodic forms bordering on those regulations.
This will serve both as a support to their judgment
and a barrier against those extravagant and erroneous
views which are so especially to be dreaded in a sphere
where experience is so costly.
Besides this absolute need of method in action, we must
also acknowledge that it has a positive advantage, which
is that, through the constant repetition of a formal exercise,
a readiness, precision, and firmness is attained in
the movement of troops which diminishes the natural
friction, and makes the machine move easier.
Method will therefore be the more generally used,
become the more indispensable, the farther down the scale
of rank the position of the active agent; and on the other
hand, its use will diminish upwards, until in the highest
position it quite disappears. For this reason it is more
in its place in tactics than in strategy.
War in its highest aspects consists not of an infinite
number of little events, the diversities in which compensate
each other, and which therefore by a better or worse
method are better or worse governed, but of separate
great decisive events which must be dealt with separately.
It is not like a field of stalks, which, without any regard to
the particular form of each stalk, will be mowed better or
worse, according as the mowing instrument is good or
bad, but rather as a group of large trees, to which the axe
must be laid with judgment, according to the particular
form and inclination of each separate trunk.
How high up in military activity the admissibility of
method in action reaches naturally determines itself, not
according to actual rank, but according to things; and
it affects the highest positions in a less degree, only
because these positions have the most comprehensive
subjects of activity. A constant order of battle, a
constant formation of advance guards and outposts,
are methods by which a General ties not only his
subordinates' hands, but also his own in certain cases.
Certainly they may have been devised by himself, and
may be applied by him according to circumstances, but
they may also be a subject of theory, in so far as they
are based on the general properties of troops and weapons.
On the other hand, any method by which definite plans
for wars or campaigns are to be given out all ready made
as if from a machine are absolutely worthless.
As long as there exists no theory which can be sustained,
that is, no enlightened treatise on the conduct of War,
method in action cannot but encroach beyond its proper
limits in high places, for men employed in these spheres
of activity have not always had the opportunity of
educating themselves, through study and through contact
with the higher interests. In the impracticable and
inconsistent disquisitions of theorists and critics they
cannot find their way, their sound common sense rejects
them, and as they bring with them no knowledge but